First, our man of the hour, Kobe Bryant, responsible for the buzzer-beating trey heard 'round the world. Like fans, media and (presumably) teammates alike, Mamba "wanted to get out of there" rather than push the game to OT. Thus, from his perspective, pulling up from behind the arc was far more preferable than a traditional bucket. So what went through Kobe's mind as the ball dropped through?
"Hell yeah," said Bryant with a grin.
Much as been made about Kobe -- the league's clutchest cat, in my humble opinion-- getting such a clean look. Whether you credit to Phil Jackson's ability to draw up a play or shake your head at Paul Westphal's not throwing the kitchen sink at the one guy you DON'T want getting the ball, it's fair to say Sergio Rodriguez was in over his head checking The Mamba by his lonesome. "He's too little," shrugged Kobe. "He's not gonna stop me from getting that damn ball."
That size difference was no more obvious than during the seconds leading up to the shot. I'm not downplaying Kobe's achievement, but at the same time, move over Mr. Jordan, there's a new "push off" sheriff in town.
(The video begins with Kobe talking about Lamar Odom sometimes playing too passively, a theme revisited later on.)
Contrary to Kobe's explanation, Phil said the final sequence wasn't drawn up specifically as a game-winner. They could have gone for the tie or the win, but the Kings' defense dictated where Kobe let fly. What PJ doesn't dispute, however, is Bryant's remarkable ability to make hay in these moments. After crediting Kobe for playing nearly the entire 48 minutes, he marvels at his star's ability in the clutch, every bit as great as another two guard he coached. "He's right with Michael (Jordan), in that kind of breadth that you look at. These players, I don't know how they gear themselves into these positions, but they do an unbelievable job of hitting shots that are remarkable shots. Marvelous shots."
Ever the team-centric fella, Lamar Odom noted those who provided key plays that put Kobe in position to drill a winner. Pau Gasol, who racked an "and-one" layup to tie things up at 103, rebounded Ime Udoka's missed free throw with seconds remaining, and assisted Mamba's game winner. Shannon Brown, who shook off some tough moments down the stretch- an air-balled three, some missed defensive assignments- to come through at the stripe and square the game at 106 apiece. (LO was probably being modest in failing to cite his own contributions- he scored 16 points in the second half- as well.) But even while playing up the supporting cast's two cents, three different times Odom nonetheless described Kobe as "so good."
As I noted during last night's postgame report, Odom disagreed with the notion of halftime adjustments improving the Lakers' defensive effort. Instead, he reiterated how a belief in their talent sometimes results in slack play. "Playing with fire," as L.O. put it. How often they'll get burnt remains to be seen, although to some degree I think the malaise is due to boredom. Yes, Ron Artest's absence (his status going for Sunday and into next week remains uncertain, as The O.C. Register reports), Andrew Bynum's slumping December and the bench's inconsistency are legit factors. But at the same time, I do think it's hard for a team preparing for a title defense to get stoked about playing Sacto in January.
I'm not excusing anything, of course. Just explaining it, at least in part.
Odom's third quarter explosion raised the question plaguing mankind since seemingly the beginning of time: Why doesn't Lamar play that way the entire game? Brian recently wrote about L.O.'s strict adherence to a philosophy that prioritizes "good basketball" over scoring (even during times when his scoring may be needed), later expanded upon in our post-practice conversation. Friday night Odom was asked about turning it on after halftime, as opposed to the entire game, and he stuck with his company line: It's all about remaining in rhythm. Following the game's flow. Remembering that "aggressiveness" can mean not just scoring but grabbing rebounds, running the floor, making passes or a strong defensive play as well, and he's one of the few NBA players with the ability to impact the game whether he's scoring or not.
As always, Lamar both has a point and is arguably missing it. This --along with his genuinely terrific nature-- is what makes Odom, as Brian and I have noted many times over, one of the more interesting athletes in sports.